What Happened Next

In real life we’re now in the second week of the holidays preceding Term 4, while my story here in this blog is still stuck at lunchtime on the first day of Term 3. Let’s try to catch up a little….

2pm. The phone rang. The school counsellor. Wanting to follow up on our meeting with the special needs specialist that morning.

“Let me begin,” I began, “by making it clear that until I stop being angry, and I might be incredibly angry indeed for at least a month, that woman is banned. I don’t want her in a meeting, I don’t want her spending time with my son, I don’t want her anywhere near the school without being warned about it first.”

I think the school counsellor laughed. I think. It was 11 weeks ago now.

Even if she didn’t laugh she did employ the art of significant silence, and well-judged professional understatement. Were her lines intended to be read between? In any case, after a half hour debrief I was confirmed in my view that we’d all been completely horrified at the things that had been suggested to me and my husband about our son.

Shared emotional response to a stressful situation makes for a strong team, in my experience, and while I’d prefer to be sharing emotions other than horror with the teachers and support staff at the school, I’ll take whatever I can get.

I thought the best thing was to not discuss it openly with the teacher, however. School teachers have it drummed into them that they must be supportive of their colleagues when parents are being critical, and I didn’t want to add to the stress load of my son’s teacher, who had gone to such lengths to integrate him into the classroom.

And Week 1 passed with my son having a fabulous week. Week 2 continued in the same vein. Week 3 commenced with the return of the wonderful acting principal who’d been on long-service leave, and I felt calm enough to organise a debrief with him about that meeting. He was shocked, but he’d already heard about the meeting from staff members, and apparently we’d all had the same response (yay!) that the remarks had been – well, something bad, he didn’t elaborate other than to share a facial expression. We made plans for the term. I felt relieved that the whole team was back in action for the rest of the term. We were making brilliant progress!

The next day I finally met with an autism advisor from the agency that administers government support for children with autism, and the grant for occupational therapy, speech therapy and psychological support services finally kicked in. That same morning my son’s occupational therapist was observing him in his classroom and working with the teachers and support staff in strategies that would facilitate his integration and development. Term 3, Week 3, Day 3 and it seemed as if the support team I’d been piecing together really was working as a team.

Friday of Week 3, the acting principal called me into the office.

“I need to tell you something,” he began, and as so often before I felt a knot in my stomach. Despite the steps forward these past few weeks something dreadful had taken place – had it? My son had lashed out at a classmate- had he? What?

None of the above, nor any of the other dark fears lurking in the rivers of adrenalin that seem to have replaced all my other bodily fluids these past few months.

The wonderful acting principal was being relieved of his position, on short notice, and being returned to his classroom (to the excitement of his students and their parents!) and a new principal we knew nothing about had been assigned to the school and would be taking over as of Monday.

I may have burst into tears.

This would be the third principal the school had had in six months, and I just didn’t think I had the energy to deal with someone new. I was explained out. What if this new principal had no experience with autism? What if she turned out to be just like the special needs specialist from two weeks earlier? What if she was so overloaded coming to terms with a whole new school that the pressing needs of my son would be seen as an irritation more than anything else?

I trudged home in a fog of foreboding.

Change is, of course, an opportunity for things to get better, not just to get worse. But it was very hard, that weekend, to pin my hopes on the chance of things getting better…

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You Should Be Writing This Down, continued

I think I was polite as the disability specialist detailed why my five year old son was under an obligation to act dumb for the benefit of society. Although … who knows exactly what expression my face was wearing.

She went on to explain that school is “for teaching kids to be bored” (this is a quote, not a paraphrase), because “that’s how life is” (that’s a paraphrase). And I think it was at this point that I wondered if I was going to completely lose it – I’d had a massive adrenalin rush hearing all this, and I wasn’t sure quite how my voice was going to come out should I try to speak.

“Right,” I heard myself agree, “especially since we know that high IQ individuals are disproportionately represented in jobs requiring minimal cognitive challenge, let’s just cut to the chase. My boy is too clever to be a brain surgeon! Let’s get him prepped for the kind of job he’s – statistically – more likely to gravitate towards – being a supermarket checkout chick! If we teach him how to be bored effectively enough now then he won’t find scanning grocery items for 8 hours a day quite so tedious when he leaves school. No, seriously, this is what highly gifted people end up doing, and I think it’s really wise to be preparing for this now.”

The school counsellor chimed in, agreeing with me thus: “It’s quite true that highly gifted people do end up in these kinds of jobs that we wouldn’t expect…” and I suddenly realised I wasn’t fighting this battle on my own. The school counsellor had my back. She was on my son’s side. And at that point I realised I was looking at everyone around the table as either being those who were on my son’s side and those who weren’t.

Those who were proactively on my son’s side were my husband, our son’s classroom teacher and the school counsellor. There were two people in the room without any prior knowledge of his case, and they didn’t say anything, so they were down as neutral. And then there was the specialist.

And the specialist was moving onto her next bullet point: “Look, I can’t believe I’m saying this to you, but we could send him to a school especially for kids with autism where they’ll sit him at a desk and say to him ‘You’re not leaving this table until you’ve done your handwriting’, and they’ll just teach him he has to do what he’s told.”

So, I found myself making a note to myself – if you find yourself saying out loud “I can’t believe I’m saying this” maybe that’s because you really shouldn’t be saying it – while simultaneously wondering what freaking planet this woman had flown in from, and how we could get her back there as quickly as possible.

As she’d been telling me about the opportunity my son had to be subjected to classroom torture the specialist had been pointing her finger onto the table, tapping it down on the table top to emphasise how the teachers at this school would keep my son at his desk til he learned to submit to their meaningless tasks, how his spirit would be broken so he could fit in to the 19th century model of class education the school system still operates within, how his curiosities would be ignored and how his creativity would be denied.

I have absolutely no idea what happened from this point of the meeting onward. Where there should be memory there’s just a blank anger filling all the space. I know that my son’s classroom teacher said things that made optimism course through my veins (this teacher really knows my son and how inappropriate this all is!) and I know that whatever I said was backed up by the school counsellor (unafraid to support my son’s needs despite any professional sense of collegial loyalty!) and that my husband came up with *the* best anecdotal support for whatever I was trying to say (we’re not fighting over the right approach for our son!), and as angry as I was I was also buoyant as we left the school grounds – whatever was coming next it wasn’t just me fighting this fight.

And I absolutely had no idea what was coming next.

To be continued…

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